STRASBOURG (Reuters) - EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker called European lawmakers "ridiculous" on Tuesday for failing to turn up to an address by Malta's prime minister, saying they should show more respect for smaller members of the bloc.
Juncker, himself from the small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, was visibly annoyed as he watched the proceedings in the near empty parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg.
"You are ridiculous," the European Commission president told the gathering called to listen to a speech by Malta's Joseph Muscat, in a blunt public rebuke of another EU institution.
"The fact that there's about 30 members of parliament present in this debate only really illustrates the fact that parliament is not serious," he said. "The European Parliament is ridiculous, very ridiculous."
Juncker said Malta, the EU's smallest country that had just completed a stint running the bloc's presidency, deserved better.
"If Mr. Muscat was Mrs Merkel, difficult as that is to imagine, or Mr Macron ... we would have a full house," Juncker said, referring to the leaders of Germany and France.
Parliament president Antonio Tajani did not address the low attendance, but told Juncker himself to take a more respectful tone.
"You may criticize the parliament, yes, but the [European] Commission does not control the parliament, it's the parliament that should be controlling the Commission," he said, to a smattering of applause.
Slightly more than 400,000 people live on Malta, putting it just behind Luxembourg whose population comes in over the half-million mark.
Muscat, who smiled during the exchanges, gave parliament a briefing on his country's presidency, focused on the challenges of migration and called Brexit a "disastrous creature which all of us should have seen coming but none of us acted to stop".
Reporting by Elizabeth Miles in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Heavens